New Bronze-Age finds in the middle reaches of the Don

In 2008 an expedition team from the Institute of Archaeology completed its investigation of burial-mounds near the village of Kolbino in the Voronezh Region. During the 15 years of its research 59 burial-mounds were excavated, 56 of which contained Scythian burials dating from the 5th and 4th centuries BC, while three dated from the Bronze Age. By the final field season the only mound still to be excavated was a hardly visible one in the western part of the Kolbino Burial-ground. When it was excavated a burial was discovered inside it which was from the Catacomb Culture dating from the Bronze Age. There was a rectangular pit measuring 1.8 x 1.4 m almost in the centre of the burial-mound, which was approximately one metre high and over 40 m in diameter. The pit had been sunk into the natural clay and inside it the skeleton of a man aged 45–50 was found, lying in a flexed position on his left side and with his head pointing to the North-East. Twenty centimetres east of the forehead area of the skull stood a hand-moulded vessel with carved decoration on its body and one horizontal handle with a hole deliberately driven through it. Direct parallels for this vessel have not been found and, given its large dimensions, it is not clear what the purpose of its single handle with a hole through it would have been.
Two and a half kilometres west of the village of Kolbino the team embarked on an investigation of a burial-ground consisting of tumuli near the village of Ust-Muravlyanka. It contained 13 visible mounds, which are exposed to intensive ploughing every year and more recently they have been the object of illegal excavations for looting purposes. The burial-mounds form a chain on a sandy cape on the north bank of the Potudan River, which rises above the flood-plain to a height of 45 m. A burial-mound situated at the very centre of the burial-ground was selected for excavation work: it was 1.5 m high and measured 34 m in diameter. It had been badly damaged by ploughing and the upper part of the mound was distorted. The expedition team was able to identify five burials of varying dates, mainly from the Bronze Age. The features of the mineral composition of the local soil had prevented the organic remains from surviving, including human skeletons and animal bones. The clay vessels found here related to the Timber-Frame, Pokrovsk-Abashevo and Catacomb Cultures of the Bronze Age: the large fragment of a hand-moulded pot with pinched decoration along the edge dated from the Scythian era.
Of particular interest was Burial 5 let into the centre of the burial-mound: it was in a rectangular grave-pit measuring 4 x 1.85 m. Near the northern wall of the grave there were two hand-moulded vessels: cup-shaped with ridged decoration, and an unusual “goblet” or “censer” on a stem leading down to a ring foot without parallels regarding shape. On the body of the latter, however, there was typical “Catacomb-Culture” decoration consisting of incised lines and conical appliqué knobs.
The assemblages of the Catacomb Culture in the burial-grounds at Kolbino and Ust-Muravlyanka, discovered by a quirk of fate by a specialist in Scythian studies, are unique. Specialists have not yet found any parallels for them. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that further study of these sites is important for an understanding of the cultural situation in the Bronze Age in the wooded steppes of the Don valley.

V.I. Gulyaev

Digital publication